Getting a good night's sleep is essential to your health, so over the years, I've read many articles about how to assemble a cozy bed fit for many hours of splendid slumber, but I've always found a few - or more - flaws. Frequently the primary flaw was in the financial aspect - although top quality linens from Italy are certainly lovely, they aren't suitable for every budget - and even more so for every household that may contain pets, kids and other adults who may not always engage in the most desirable linen conservation practices. Another complication is in the south - and now with global climate change - it's not atypical to have local weather conditions change unseasonably in a matter of hours. The practice of taking down and putting up heavy linens depending upon the season now seems to be replaced with the need for many lighter options that can easily be layered - and removed - which also breathe well.
So, what did I find to be an affordable solution that met the above requirements? What I call the "superbed", a bed of wonderful comfort and coziness that will keep you warm when you need it and with easily removable layers and breathability for when you don't. The photo below shows a sample compilation of materials that work well together.
1. Mattress. Despite the commercials regarding what you may or may not need, mattresses are a personal choice both in terms of firmness and the size of the mattress you wish to purchase, as long as your residence is able to accommodate the dimensions. Find one that is suitable to your tastes and your budget and build from there. Wear comfortable clothes when shopping for your mattress and try them out. However, since most mattresses last at least 20 years, buy the best you can afford unless you plan for an upgrade in the near future. There are a couple of things you will want to check regarding quality.
a. Check the coil count. Coil construction and quality varies from company to company, but coils should start at 300 for a full, 375 for a queen and 450 for a king. Ask about the diameter of the coils. The wider, the sturdier.
b. Read labels to see what the ticking is made of. Quality ticking will be a cotton blend, viscose or damask, but cheap ticking can also be a synthetic such as polyester or even vinyl.
c. If you are purchasing a traditional mattress and box spring, purchase the two together because they act as a unit.
2. Pillows. There are three basic decisions regarding pillows: firmness, size and the preferred fill content.
How do you fall asleep most often? Side sleepers need a firm pillow, back sleepers need a medium pillow and stomach sleepers need a thiner, softer pillow. Memory foam pillows molds to the shape of your head and neck for great support and cushioining. A pillow filled with synthetic fiber also cushions and is a great option for peole with allergies.
FIRMNESS: Firmness and fill content are somewhat interrelated. To determine the firmness you desire, you can use your hand to press on the pillow, but this is not an accurate measure of what it is like to actually sleep on the pillows. Ideally you want the ability to take your pillows home and try them. If you find them unsuitable to your liking, return them.
SIZING: Pillows are offered in regular, standard or full which are all approximately the same size. Next are queen and king pillows, generally proportioned to accommodate the equivalent size of bed. Lastly are jumbo pillows and full body pillows. Whatever size you buy, make sure that it fits your bed and that there is room for you on the bed as well.
FILL: Fill content choices include fiber, foam or a natural fill such as feathers, down, cotton or wool. If you suffer from allergies or neck pain, many find man-made materials such as fiber or foam materials more comfortable. There are allergy-barrier pillows available and if you have asthma or allergies, you may want to consider buying this type of pillow. They block mold spores, pet dander, pollen and dust mites that can collect on your pillow, all of which can affect asthma or allergies. Many of these pillows are offered in memory foam material which are often a preferred choice by those suffering from neck pain.
For others that prefer a more malleable pillow, down makes an excellent choice. The selections of all types are varied, so look at price points relative to the quality of the materials being used. If you are considering a feather pillow, the quills of the pillow can poke through the fabric covers, so consider one that is a mix of down and feathers or use a "double filled" pillow that uses feathers for a more solid core, but down for the outer core that provides softness.
THREAD COUNT: Although one thinks of thread count as it pertains to sheets, the quality of the fabric covering your pillows is also important. It will both contribute to how the pillow feels as well as help contain the fill. In the case of down and fine feathers, lower quality cases may allow the contents to eventually escape, leaving you with flatter pillows and a bedroom full of fine down. Double filled pillows also frequently help contain fill contents to their proper home.
3. Mattress pads/covers. A good mattress protector encases the entire mattress to protect you against all types of microscopic particles including mites and bedbugs as well as spills. A mattress topper provides a comfortable layer between you and your mattress. The foundation should be plush, yet firm to one's preference. It's not reasonable for everyone to purchase a top-of-the-line mattress with all the latest custom adjustments, but getting a plush mattress cover will help make your mattress more comfortable while preserving your investment in your mattress. It also provides health benefits such as providing a base to conform to your body without introducing uncomfortable pressure points.
Similar to pillows, there are several choices of materials available.
For allergies: Select a mattress pad made of anti-microbial cotton if you have allergies. These mattress pads typically have tightly woven fabric that acts as a barrier between you, dust mites and other allergens in your mattress.
A more straightforward way of staying warm is to select a heated mattress pad to warm up your bed during the colder months, but they can be cumbersome and may not offer many adjustment features.
High-density foam can change the feel of your bed entirely. Memory foam and latex foam mattress pads conform to the body's contours to relieve pressure points. They're the ideal solution for the fitful sleeper. If you have back problems, testing out a memory foam mattress pad is the cheapest way to ensure your muscles will be supported -- allowing you to have a good night's sleep
Maximize comfort: A mattress pad with a bit of "rise" will provide a little more cushy comfort at night. Pillow-top mattress pads add uniform padding to your mattress. Down-filled mattress toppers, which rest on top of your bed like a large, flat pillow, provide supreme softness, but be sure to have sheets handy that can accommodate the extra height.
4. Bed Sheets. This is your flat or fitted sheet over your mattress, cover sheet and pillow cases. Ideally go with a natural fabric such as cotton or bamboo as you will have better breathability Here again though, a higher quality mixed blend of man-made and natural fibers may offer better performance than a lower end cotton or bamboo sheet. Be sure to check labels carefully regarding fabric composition and be careful when looking at thread counts.
FABRIC Cotton is by far the most popular fabric for sheets. Because of their long fibers (also known as staples), the highest quality cotton varieties are Sea Island cotton, grown off the east coast of the United States; Egyptian cotton, grown in Egypt; and Pima cotton, grown in the U.S. (named after the Pima Indians).
Check labels carefully: Even if the products are made with just a small percentage of these high-quality fibers, they can be identified as Egyptian, Pima or Sea Island cotton. Look for a high percentage; Supima Cotton is a trademark that indicates the fibers are 100 percent Pima cotton.
Bamboo is popular because its naturally resistant to bacteria and are able to wick away moisture. Beech sheets comes from beech trees grown on sustainable farms specifically for their fiber, which is often marketed under brand names such as Tencel. Both bamboo and beech can be blended with cotton for increased durability.
THREAD COUNT: Higher thread count isn't always necessarily better. What is important is the length of the fiber being used and the ply, or number of threads wrapped together, as well as fiber choice makes a difference, too. Bamboo and beech sheets, for example, often have a lower thread count because the fibers are naturally softer and silkier. Also softer sheets with a high thread count, such as sateens, which are very light and thin, might not be as durable as sheets in other weaves and thread counts.
Lastly, be sure to check the size and shape for proper fitting so sheets don't annoyingly bunch, bag or slip off while sleeping and check the country of manufacture. European and US made linens, all else being equal, typically have a longer life span than those manufactured in India or China, but there is frequently a higher price to pay as well.
5. Blankets. In general natural fiber blankets offer better breathability and durability, and most people find them more comfortable. Choices include cotton, wool and down. Because we are focused on layering blankets, it is recommended the first layer blanket after the bed sheets be either wool or cotton. Other choices include acrylic velour types which are often desirable for allergy sufferers and fleece blankets, typically made from acrylic fibers.
The other consideration depending on your preference and climate is the weave of the blanket.
THERMAL blankets are loosely woven, which allows air to circulate. This will provide less warmth, since body heat escapes, and will more typically be used by someone considered a "warmer sleeper", or during the warmer weather. Thermal is generally made of acrylic or cotton fibers.
CONVENTIONAL blankets are tightly woven, making it best used for warmth and insulation. This weave traps air beneath the blanket against the body, and is generally made of synthetic or wool fibers.
After extensive testing, the first level blanket that performed the best was a thermal cotton blanket. The velour nylon ones didn't offer the often desirable feeling of "weight" without necessarily adding a lot of heat.
6. Comforters: For the next layer of blankets, the down comforter performed best for cold weather conditions. Again, as with all the bedding previously discussed, your comforter selection is largely dependent on individual preferences. This is where you will need to determine the amount of fill you desire in your comforter.
FILL describes the quality and different grades of goose down. For examples, a 750 fill is composed of larger down clusters than a 650 fill and will fill more space with the same amount of weight and therefore be warmer. The other number of look at is the weight of the comforter to help you make accurate comparisons. For example, compare a 46 ounce 650 fill to a 750 fill. Ideally look in the stores and feel the difference with your hands to get an idea of the real feel.
For most people, a good choice for a year around down comforter would be a summer warmth for average to warm sleepers, or the autumn weight for average to cold sleepers. Be sure to consider what is the average temperature of your bedroom during sleeping hours. Cold sleepers generally select a 750 or 800 fill power while warm sleepers typically select a 650 or 750 fill.
THREAD COUNT: Thread count represents the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Select down comforters will have a quality fabric with a high thread count. The higher thread count provides softness, durability and will keep the fill from getting out and impurities from getting in.
BAFFLE BOX CONSTRUCTION: Baffling is a type of construction, specifically vertically sewn in cloth walls to keep the down from shifting and clumping. Without baffling you'll have cold spots resulting from shifting down not being evenly distributed. Not all down comforters are constructed with baffling, so look for this feature. The more baffling, the better.
DUVET COVERS: Duvet covers can be used to cover any blanket or comforter, but they are highly recommended for down comforters. Duvets are similar to pillowcases in that they to protect and decorate your comforter. Here again, consider fabric composition and thread count.
Synthetic fill comforters may offer a good choice for people who suffer from allergies.
7. Other accessories. Other accessories include throw blankets, pillows and any other item that seems to you that it will work well.
Building the superbed.
After multiple testing combinations in both home and third party research at accommodations such as B&Bs, hotels and inns, one of the most commonly preferred combinations was a good quality cotton or bamboo/cotton sheet with a thermal cotton or wool blanket and high quality down comforter with a high thread count duvet.
However, for home environments, you can also play around with combinations of various pillow sizes and throws. Adding in a layer of sheepskin between two down comforters and adding in throws such as alpaca and cotton provide numerous combinations.